RuPaul’s Drag Race kicked off its fifth season with a gigantic fishtank photo shoot and a dumpster-diving fashion show, two challenges that require stunt athleticism and survival instincts. While Roxxxy Andrews ran off with the season’s first victory, it was hard to celebrate knowing that the episode’s loser was the instantly likable Penny Tration, a.k.a. Tony Cody from Cincinnati, OH. Penny was voted onto RuPaul’s Drag Race by fans (even though another queen named Adore Delano, a.k.a the fabulous Danny Noriega from season seven of American Idol , garnered more votes but wasn’t selected as a contestant for undisclosed reasons), and thus her potential seemed unlimited. Unfortunately, a couture challenge and a Miley Cyrus lip-sync snafu sent her sashaying away, and now we’re left to discuss the whole ordeal with the lovely queen herself.
We talked to Penny about the exhausting nature of the show, wearing heels for 10 hours, and the shock of being the first queen eliminated.
AfterElton: Penny! How are you today?
Penny Tration: I am rockin’ the casbah if I do say so myself!
AE: You were picked by home viewers to be on the show. Did you walk into taping with a cloud of confidence around you?
PT: I don’t think anyone could say any different. When 10,000 people decide that they want you on the show, it’s far more significant to me than a handful of praise.
AE: Did that separate you from the other queens? Did they treat you differently?
PT: I don’t think so? I mean, I think everyone was so thrilled with the opportunity to be there that I don’t know that anyone else so much cared about how I got there. Maybe? I don’t think so. I’ll have to ask! I don’t think they gave a crap how I got there.
AE: Penny Tration is a bold name! One of my favorites.
PT: Well, I can’t take any credit for it. I actually was originally “The Drag Queen Helga” because I walk in looking like a Russian gymnast. Unfortunately for me, there is a gal somewhere in the middle of the country who holds the copyright on that name, and I was actually served a cease-and-desist, to which I said, “Here you go. Take it.” We went through a little naming contest, and the three top vote-getters were Barb Wire, Penny Tration, and Heidi Salami, and because I couldn’t find another Penny Tration on the internet, I said, “That’s the one we’ll go with.” I guess my whole drag queen has been a fan vote thing! For real, I think about that! My name was picked by the fans, I was selected to go on the show by fans. It’s kind of crazy, but funny.
AE: You’re the world’s first crowdsourced drag queen!
PT: And I am truly a crowd-funded drag queen! A dollar at a time.
AE: “Party in the U.S.A. is a specific type of pop song for a specific type of queen. I feel like it just wasn’t your world at all.
PT: I found it horrifying to be this old lady in an updo and a poorly fitting evening gown to lip-sync Miley Cyrus next to something that looked like the “Party in the U.S.A.” had blown up on it. I thought it was horrifying. But yes, it was disorienting, it was just awful altogether. That’s the bottom line. I thought, “There is nothing I can do to make this look like anything other than a joke.”
AE: What do you prefer to lip-sync?
PT: I don’t tend to do a whole lot of regular Top 40, but I kind of like Anastasia, or something with a little bit of angst built in, something more classic. We have to mix in Britney and Ke$ha now and then because that’s what the kids want to see, but I’ve certainly never done any Miley Cyrus. I mean, that’s obvious.
AE: I spoke with you briefly at The Abbey for the season five premiere, and you talked about how taxing the filming process was. Can you go into what’s so exhausting about it?
PT: I don’t think anyone is aware of the number of hours it takes to make one hour of television. Unless you’re in the industry, there’s no awareness of the time between walking the runway and the critique. It’s a loooong time and a really long day. You wouldn’t be aware of it because of the way it’s edited; you come out on the runway, you come out for a critique, you get voted off, you lip-sync. But the hours of waiting — and for me, that’s waiting in a corset with size 14 shoes and putting 300 pounds on the balls of my feet for ten hours at a minimum? It’s pretty crazy. That’s not to say Latrice [Royale, from last season] didn’t have a similar circumstance, and she obviously suffered from the same difficulties. But to be a 125-pound little boy versus a 300-pound 40-year-old? It’s a little different.
AE: The judges made a lot of comments about your makeup. Were you surprised by that reaction?
PT: Well, I think that everyone who is on the show has experienced the challenge of the difference between what we do as our job, which is drag queens on a stage under a bright spotlight, versus what things look like on television. You don’t know that until you get there. But I don’t know; everyone does their makeup and the judges just didn’t happen to like mine. I didn’t think it was a personal attack. I don’t like Brussels Sprouts, so I’m sure the Brussels Sprouts Farmers of America would be upset with me, you know? I just don’t happen to like it. But the biggest bummer about RuPaul’s Drag Race was the desire to learn more about the craft, and though I certainly learned about a lot of other things, I learned nothing about the craft I was there.
AE: On Untucked, your competitors seemed to focus on Serena ChaCha’s potential for elimination. Did that give you a false sense of safety?
PT: Prior to the critique, I was certain there was no chance at all that I was going to be in the bottom. There were a number of people who didn’t fulfill the challenge requirement! Then we got to the critique, it felt like a setup to me. It felt like it was not genuine. At that point, it doesn’t really matter though. This is your fate, make a decision, and move forward. That’s what I tried to do. “OK, you don’t like my makeup. Great. OK, my hip pads are bent.” Of course I was able to fix it once it was brought to my attention. And the lip sync was just a fiasco, on both our parts for that matter. Is all you’ve got in your drag arsenal is the splits? I don’t know. Maybe there’s not much there. I was completely caught off guard during the critique though, but there’s just no way to know that that’s what your makeup is going to look like under those circumstances unless you’re Willam or Detox, who have had the opportunity to be in that situation.
AE: Finally, who are you rooting for? And who are you rooting against?
I don’t think there’s anyone I am rooting against. That’s great on TV, but in our real personal lives, it doesn’t do anything for anybody. I think it hurts us more than it hurts them. As far as rooting for, I think Detox is a genius. I would like to see that represented as what is America’s Next Drag Superstar. There are obviously other talented people on the show, like Roxxy — brilliant — and I love Alaska. But I think Detox is a marriage between onstage talent and a great business mind. She can take care of an audience while partying like a rockstar, which I’m completely incapable of. I think she would be a great representative for the franchise.